The Generator took part in a weeklong worldwide event aimed at promoting entrepreneurship, and while director Mildred Franco said she was proud to be included in such a far-flung exercise, it was the home-spun stories of business success that may have had the biggest impact.
Global Entrepreneurship Week, held earlier this month, is an annual initiative designed to note and boost entrepreneurs. The organizers in Arkansas reached out to Franco to ask if she would like to be a part of the event, and she jumped at the chance.
In all, there were 40,000 events that took place all across the world, including in 18 communities in the state, she said, making Arkansas one of the highest participating states in the country.
"We are grateful for the platform that #GEW2020 provides to not only celebrate our entrepreneurs during a whole week, but also for the community to come together to support, encourage, and learn about the entrepreneurial activity in Pine Bluff," Franco said in announcing the week of activities.
Immediately, Franco began mapping strategy. The Generator received no funding to pay for events or speakers. She reached out to the Pine Bluff Small Business Association, and they gladly agreed to showcase multiple members at their monthly meeting to tell their own stories about starting and running a business, and they asked her to join them as speaker to talk about The Generator's programs. She also reached out to some entrepreneurs to create the culminating event for the week, "A Brew of Entrepreneurial Journeys."
In the end, there were sessions about creating a business, getting a business noticed online and via social media, using the resources of The Generator in getting a business started and running, and, Franco's favorite, listening to several Pine Bluff entrepreneurs tell their stories.
She said she felt the storytelling aspect was important because people either don't know or quickly dismiss what Pine Bluff has to offer.
"I hear people say, 'there's nowhere to shop,' and then I look around at all of these entrepreneurs who are trying to grow their businesses and whose voices are not being uplifted. I then ask myself how do we help them grow and scale up."
The Generator is funded through a professional service agreement with the city that is paid for by the Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax. As part of that function, The Generator's mission is to "empower makers, dreamers and doers that generate a thriving and inclusive community by providing space, tools and programs to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship," Franco said. So the question of how to help local businesses become successful is the heart of why The Generator exists in the first place.
To that end, during the week, participants heard from Jan Robinson, from Uptown Salon & Boutique; Marvin Cawthon Jr. with 5 Star Cutz; Reggie Cole with Natural Bliss; Verna Perry with Carpenter's Daughter; and Latasha Taggart with Tagg'd Fashion Boutique.
Cole had a good job with a communications company, Franco said, but gave that up "because he always felt like he wanted to do something else. When Verna started Carpenter's Daughter, she aimed it mostly toward women to help them become more skilled in construction trades."
Everyone who spoke told about their professional journey, said Franco, who added that the entrepreneurs had not gone into business "for the cool factor."
"They are in it for the calling," she said. "They want what they are doing to be beneficial to their community."
Before the week was done, Mayor Shirley Washington visited the group; she read proclamation recognizing Global Entrepreneurship Week and the work that Franco is doing at The Generator.
When Franco opened registration for the events, she wasn't sure what to expect. To make sure everyone felt safe during the covid pandemic, with the restraints on gathering and distancing, she limited the number of people attending the in-person event at The Generator to 20. On Tuesday, for the virtual workshop, there were only two individuals, which, she said, was fine because she was able to spend quality time with each one.
On Thursday, however, the session was full.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Franco said regarding the approximately 50 people who attended across the course of the week. "There weren't huge numbers, but I think overall for Pine Bluff it wasn't bad considering we are in the middle of a pandemic."